Chicago Cubs: The 5 Most Disappointing Players in Spring Training so Far
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Chicago Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward.Tim Warner/Getty Images
The Chicago Cubs are the MLB champions and boast a galaxy of budding stars, but even they aren’t immune to underwhelming spring performances.
No, a poor exhibition showing doesn’t necessarily mean anything; we’re squarely in the season of salt grains and small-sample caveats.
Players don’t have to light up the exhibition slate. But, to paraphrase Matthew McConaughey in Dazed and Confused, it’s a lot cooler if they do.
Here, then, are five Cubs who have disappointed in the Cactus League. It isn’t time to mash the panic button on any of them, but a concerned glance is warranted.
No. 5: Jake Arrieta, RHP
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After winning National League Cy Young Award honors in 2015, Jake Arrieta went from great to merely good in 2016.
The chief culprit was command, as his walks per nine innings ballooned from a career-best 1.9 in 2015 to 3.5.
In five spring innings, Arrieta owns a 5.40 ERA and, not coincidentally, has issued three walks. He’s also struck out six, so the stuff is there—it’s simply a matter of harnessing it.
“It’s better to have it now rather than in June or July,” Arrieta said of his wobbly control, per Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune. “I like the work. The walks, I don’t like that. But the feel will come around as I continue to progress.”
No. 4: Ben Zobrist, 2B/LF
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Joshua Blanchard/Getty Images
Experienced hitters rarely fret over spring numbers. It’s about putting in the work and getting ready for the 162-game slog.
So, it probably doesn’t matter that Ben Zobrist is batting .190 this spring with one extra-base hit in 21 at-bats.
However, Zobrist will turn 36 in May, and that’s an age when many players’ skills take a precipitous, permanent dive.
The Cubs have coverage at second base, where Javier Baez looks like a brash, emerging superstar. In left field, meanwhile, Kyle Schwarber will push for reps.
Zobrist, though, helps form the versatile, veteran backbone of this young Chicago team.
He acknowledged his role as a “super-utility guy” on 670 The Score’s Bernstein and Goff Show (via CBS Chicago).
Here’s the bottom line: He’s an important piece of the puzzle for the Cubs, and his ability to remain an above-average contributor will be key to their repeat hopes.
No. 3: Brett Anderson, LHP
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Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
Brett Anderson’s audition for the Cubs fifth-starter gig is not going well.
In eight innings, the 29-year-old left-hander has coughed up 15 hits and six earned runs. Opposing batters are teeing off to a Ty Cobb-esque .405 average against him.
“You’re usually fine for the first two innings, and the third and fourth innings are kind of grindy,” Anderson said after a shaky outing Tuesday versus the bottom-feeding Milwaukee Brewers, per the Chicago Tribune‘s Gonzales.
Anderson threw just 11.1 innings last season with the Los Angeles Dodgers before undergoing back surgery, meaning he’s got something to prove.
Thus far, he’s proving to be eminently hittable.
No. 2: Wade Davis, RHP
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Joshua Blanchard/Getty Images
The Cubs needed a closer this winter and settled on Wade Davis, whom they acquired from the Kansas City Royals in a straight-up swap for outfielder Jorge Soler.
Most, including yours truly, labeled it a win for Chicago.
Soler was a spare piece in a crowded Chicago outfield. Davis, as I noted at the time, “has been nothing short of elite since moving into a full-time relief role in 2014. During that span, he’s posted a 1.18 ERA with 11.53 strikeouts per nine innings next to just 2.91 walks per nine.”
He also pitched under current Cubs manager Joe Maddon during their days with the Tampa Bay Rays from 2009 to 2012.
On the other hand, Davis hit the disabled list twice last season with a strained forearm.
In 1.1 spring innings, he’s given up five hits, two walks and four earned runs. If you’re curious, that equates to a 27.00 ERA.
The 31-year-old downplayed his crooked stats.
“I don’t know what my spring training has ever been like, as far as numbers,” Davis said, per Paul Skirbina of the Chicago Tribune. “Whatever happens here doesn’t really matter.”
That may be true, but considering Davis is set to hit the open market after this season, the Cubs will want to see some results soon.
No. 1: Jason Heyward, RF
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Rob Tringali/Getty Images
At the outset of spring training, I predicted Jason Heyward would make an early impression. He has, though surely not the kind he’d hoped for.
In 29 exhibition at-bats, Heyward owns a .138/.242/.310 slash line with eight strikeouts. That, after he reworked his swing in the offseason.
Cubs mental skills coordinator Darnell McDonald showcased the new, more upright hack in an Instagram post that has since been deleted.
Heyward, of course, inked an eight-year, $184 million contract with the Cubs last winter but was a letdown offensively throughout the regular season and playoffs.
While his struggles were lost amid the champagne and confetti, Chicago is banking on a return to form from the 27-year-old.
FanGraphs was bullish in its analysis:
Given that many of his peripheral numbers remained the same or similar, including his swing and contact rates, it’s difficult to call this a new norm for Heyward. It’s more likely the result of a mechanical flaw that he’s spent the winter correcting, and we should see harder contact and, subsequently, a more frequent on-base presence from Jason Heyward.
Fair enough. Heyward is young and skilled enough to bounce back. So far in the Cactus League, though, it’s been discouragingly more of the same.
All statistics current as of Wednesday and courtesy of FanGraphs and MLB.com unless otherwise noted.